Otters have access to various helpful food programs

Story by Andrea Valadez

With the limited on-campus dining options at California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB), some students have turned to the state government for aid.

The Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) is run through the state of California and the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) and provides people in need with a debit card through which they can receive their “food and cash benefits,” says the CDSS website.

“Since I don’t make a lot of money, I rely on my EBT money for real groceries, so I don’t always have to eat the food from the Dining Commons or the school’s student union,” said Bethany Reyes, a second-year who benefits from EBT.

To qualify for EBT a few requirements must be met. The Food and Nutrition Service describes these requirements as “including resource and income limits.” 

“The online application process itself is pretty straightforward, but once you get to the case worker part with the interviews, it gets confusing and frustrating… I would definitely recommend it [to college students] even though it’s a little confusing at parts,” said third-year Ky McMullen.

McMullen advises that it’s best to have all paperwork ready before the phone interview to reduce complications that prolong the process. The interviewer will ask for documents such as pay stubs, proof of enrollment, and proper identification.

Though EBT is a good resource for low-income students, having a meal plan with CSUMB could limit the CalFresh benefits a student can qualify for. In this case, students could utilize on-campus resources to access fresh and nutritious foods.

The Basic Needs Hub is open every week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and offers “nonperishable grocery items, healthy produce, and grab-and-go snacks and prepared food.” The Hub operates on a point system, where students have 5 points per day to grab whatever items they may need at no cost. 

Granola bars, coffee pods, spices and other small items are worth 1 point, while more critical items such as frozen or pre-packaged meals can be up to 3 points, according to  Basic Needs Care Manager Joanna Snawder-Manzo.

“Another one of my favorite programs is Fresh Access. We created this program a few years ago in partnership with the local farmer’s markets, so students can get vouchers for up to $20 per month to use at farmer’s markets in the area,” she explained.

If you’re interested in Fresh Access, “all students need to do is submit a one-time Basic Needs referral form, and we put them on a list. Then they can come in and pick up their vouchers every month, and they never expire.”

Even though these programs can be extremely helpful for students struggling with food insecurity, they are not always taken advantage of due to a stigma surrounding them. 

Snawder-Manzo wants to let students know that they’re not alone in this situation. “Many students struggle, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK. It’s because of the cost of education and our state being one of the most expensive states to live in. The system is broken, not the students.”

“We’re here to help. Our focus is to alleviate some of those insecurities, so students can focus on being students,” assured Snawder-Manzo.
Students can visit to apply or learn more about EBT benefits.

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